By Joel Bolton, Project Manager, Gulf States Regional Center for Public Safety Innovation, Natchitoches, Louisiana; and Robert T. Wall, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police and Coordinator, IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge
his column is the fourth installment in a series examining the process of building an exemplary law enforcement traffic safety program as seen through the lens of the judging criteria of the IACP National Law Enforcement Challenge. The IACP has selected these criteria for a reason: they are the basic and essential elements of an effective life-saving traffic crash prevention program at the municipal, county, and state levels.
The purpose of this fun and popular competition is to challenge law enforcement agencies across the United States to enhance their traffic safety programs and to share information among agencies about what efforts have successfully increased safety belt use, reduced impaired-driving offenses, and helped manage speeding violations.
Readers should note that this series of columns addresses how interested agencies can reduce the number and severity of traffic crashes in their jurisdiction, not just how to enter the National Law Enforcement Challenge. Tips on completing an application to enter the competition can be found on the Internet at www.lawenforcementchallenge.org.
So far, this look at the judging process for the Challenge has covered the important aspects of departmental policy and enforcement guidelines that help guide officer actions as well as the significance of traffic safety work to the mission of the agency. It has also stressed that educating officers on traffic safety topics should be part of an agency’s balanced training program.
Continuing to follow the Challenge application in order, we come upon the section addressing employee incentives and recognition for exemplary performance in educating the public and enforcing laws regarding safety belts and child restraints, alcohol consumption, and speeding. Recognizing those who go above and beyond the norm sends an important message to the other members of the agency and to the public, and it motivates officers to strive for higher levels of service.
Readers of this publication are intimately familiar with the nuances of motivating employee performance. Police managers face staff challenges on a daily basis that would intimidate and immobilize supervisors in other professional fields. Achieving and maintaining high levels of performance among the various personality types drawn to the field of law enforcement is no small feat.
To perform effectively, employees must have the functional ability to do the job, a work environment conducive to executing job duties, and the desire to see their duties through. To a large degree, agencies determine officers’ general ability during the selection and probation period. Providing a good work environment involves making sure officers have the tools they need to do their job, as well as an understanding of what is important to management about their job performance. For the purposes of this discussion, that understanding is communicated through policy and training, described in a previous column.
Personal desire to perform job duties is a performance dynamic that can be influenced by many factors, including officers’ personality traits. Key for many officers is positive reinforcement, derived from effective incentives and recognition programs. Thinking about the attributes of employees who are considered consistently superior officers, it should be clear that rewards—even if nothing more than an acknowledgment of a job well done—are significant motivators for even higher performance levels.
For this reason, the IACP chose to include “Incentives and Recognition” among the cornerstones of a good traffic safety program in the National Law Enforcement Challenge. The reality is that there are substantial differences between the glamour and adrenaline rush for an officer interrupting a burglary in progress, for instance, and that experienced by an officer who diligently enforces impaired-driving laws, consistently removing drunk drivers from the road. Even though such diligent enforcement may not be very glamorous, officers who undertake this duty have a greater potential to save lives and prevent injuries than officers participating in any other law enforcement activity.
One recognition program for officers listed on the National Law Enforcement Challenge application is Saved by the Belt, which recognizes officers and citizens spared from injury in a crash through proper use of safety belts. Such programs and the accompanying publicity send an important, clear message about the effectiveness of safety restraints in crashes for officers and citizens.
Recognition of officers who exhibit exemplary performance in detecting and apprehending impaired-driving and speeding violators is also listed on the Challenge application. Motivated officers who perform these two enforcement activities well deserve a public pat on the back for the work they do. This kind of positive reinforcement can inspire—and has inspired—other officers to strengthen their efforts to enforce seat belt laws, apprehend impaired drivers, and detect speed violations.
Agencies can recognize their outstanding officers in many ways, but what is important is that such recognition be public and meaningful. Those who excel at DUI enforcement can be recognized in conjunction with advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), for example. Awards and ceremonies sponsored by agencies themselves also meet the objective of recognition.
Even for officers who understand the positive impact of consistent, aggressive traffic law enforcement on crash death and injury rates, educating the public with a ticket book is still a thankless job. When agency management publicly recognizes the value of traffic law enforcement, it reinforces for all officers and the public the agency’s dedication to the goal of safer streets.
Next month, we will continue our review of the elements of a successful traffic safety program with a look at public information and education.■